By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
God, if I weren’t so fully trained in mindfulness, I’d have been run over by a bus long ago.
My fortunes have found me crashing and burning many times in my life, culminating last winter when I accidentally flash-burned my butt bent over in front of a space heater after a shower, blow-drying my hard-to-reach areas, so to speak, and applying Right Guard deodorant at the same time.
WHOOOSH! Karma frowns on multi-tasking. Scared the heck out me.
Once (while lying on my stomach recovering from my flash burn) I wrote a list of the calamities and disasters—just the funny ones—that have befallen me over the years. It is a long list. I am an oaf.
I once fell into my father-in-law’s aquarium. I almost got squished to death by a clumsy elephant. I once got beat up for stepping on a Marine drill instructor’s boot. I went totally “Timmy down the well” one time when I was hunting wild turkeys in the back ranges of Fort Knox, Kentucky, and fell into a crater made by a high explosive tank shell.
I slipped on wet leaves once and broke my jaw while falling into an open case of Two-Buck-Chuck wine I was carrying, I’ve sprained my ankle walking out my own front door. I was cleaning fish one time and accidentally stabbed myself in the back of my calf.
There are so many more. So like I said, if I weren’t a master of Buddhist mindfulness, I’d have been dead before I made it into my 30s. My father was my first mindfulness coach. He was a career soldier and war veteran, who called me a “cow on crutches” and frequently admonished me to get my head out of my ass.
So did the Marines, when they got hold of me. I was a walking liability. But he was a great dad and did the only thing he could do to help fix my attention problem: he taught me how to shoot a rifle.
Every shot I took at 50 feet at a target the size of a golf ball was scrutinized by my dad through a spotting scope. After every shot he asked, “Whered it go?”
“Missed at four o’clock, Dad.”
“Bull shit, it’s in the nine ring,” he would say. “Get your head out of your ass.”
I had the same training six years later, at Parris Island, but I didn’t let tell the Marine instructors that I already knew how to shoot military style. I wanted them to think I was a quick study, and a good shot.
They shouldn’t even let people like me be around guns.
Mindfulness and concentration are the last two items on the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. They are developed through meditation, along with calmness, rationality, and mental fortitude. The 80 percent or so of Buddhists who don’t meditate are cheating themselves of these benefits—the greatest of which is mental fortitude. Strength of mind brings with it a certain fearlessness, an ability to cope and remain calm when calamities happen—the greatest of which for most people is getting old and dying, in all likelihood, in pain.
You don’t prepare for death by beginning a meditation practice when you get a terminal diagnosis, you do it by beginning a meditation practice while you’re still healthy.
Following the Noble Eightfold Path doesn’t protect you from calamities that are not of your own doing. Morality certainly prevents things like bar fights, but once, while I studied Buddhism in Sri Lanka, I slowly strolled through a grove of palm trees, contemplating the sounds and smells in a pristine jungle forest, when suddenly I got conked on the head by a falling coconut, just like in a cartoon.
And like a cartoon, I was knocked cold. And when I woke up, there were jungle birds flying around my head.
Editor: Dana Gornall